Four months after I’d broken things off a second time with her, Sontaya’s birthday rolled around. Though there was no desire on my part to hook up again, I nevertheless wondered if she might be able to use some extra money for the occasion, so I emailed her about it.
My timing could not have been better. It turned out my ex-girlfriend was going through an incredible streak of bad luck. First there’d been a storm at her sister’s house which had severely damaged the roof and would take thirty-six thousand baht (@$1,200) to fix. Around the same time, the bar she was working at was experiencing financial troubles that forced it to close down for a few weeks. And just when it seemed things could not get any worse, the woman then got hit with some kind of debilitating flu. When I took the Skytrain down to her station to meet over coffee and see what I could do, Sontaya arrived looking like a refugee from a POW camp, her haggard appearance accompanied with fits of coughing. All her jewelry had been put in temporary hock to help pay for the new roof and her bank account was down to its last two hundred baht ($6).
There was a lineup of ATMs next to the coffee shop and once everything had been explained to me, I took Sontaya to the one for my bank. There I transferred forty thousand baht, which would repair the roof and leave her with some money for food and medicine. (Looking back, I wished I’d given more.) She then went to her bank’s ATM and confirmed that my gift was now in her account.
From the moment in the coffee shop when I had offered to help, Sontaya had been fighting back tears. I had never seen her cry before. Sometimes it’s difficult to fully understand what people are forced to deal with. As we said goodbye at the station, still a bit bleary-eyed, she asked for a kiss but I substituted a hug, not wanting to risk catching whatever she had. Later I received an email saying she would never forget what I had done for her and her family.
My feelings regarding all this were more mundane. Here was someone who needed help, and I was in a position to provide it. Just doing my job, really. And although I did not know it at the time, this was also a prelude to what would become my most ambitious charity project ever.